How to Tell Racism from Racism™
What's Wrong with Racism, Part II
Last time we explored how “scientific” racism got a foothold around the world in the early 20th century. Today we’d like to explore why it caught on, with such appalling outcomes. But first some definitions.
By “racism” we mean something specific. We mean the theory that subgroups of human beings are markedly different from each other. That they represent steps on a hierarchy. That some are better than others. That members of different groups have different moral importance.
This is not what the left today typically means by the word. The definition of “racism” wielded like a bully stick from Ivy League campus to corporate diversity office is something else. It’s a lot less precise. A lot more political. The multiculturalist concept of racism has only a little overlap with the real thing. So to mark it off conveniently, we’ll call it Racism™.
There’s Racism and Then There’s Racism™
Racism™ refers to the fact there are supposedly power differentials ensconced in our very system. And they benefit every member of just one race. Just by existing in a society where those gaps exist, a white person is implicated by Racism™. No matter what he thinks, says, or does. It’s the task of every white person (especially males) to bend over backwards all through his life. To atone for this original sin. And it’s a sin that no member of any other group in America can even commit. Nor do we consider it Racism™ when in Asian or African countries majority groups have an advantage.
When Harvard rejects qualified Asians in favor of less qualified members of other minority groups, what it’s practicing isn’t Racism™. Nor if a gang of black teenagers assaults a Latino person. Or vice versa. When one ethnic group in an African country such as Rwanda targets another for actual genocide, that’s bad. We’re allowed to admit that. But it isn’t Racism™. That word only refers to power gaps between whites and other groups. Are you writing this down? It will be on the test.
Does this sound arbitrary and finally amoral? There’s a good reason for that: It’s a Marxist theory. It deals only with “objective” outcomes. Not “mystical” issues like the individual conscience. Or intention. Racism™ just plugs in non-white ethnic groups in the place of the proletariat.
Remember that the Bolsheviks would punish and even imprison middle-class people because of their “class background.” Now their intellectual heirs are willing to target whites because of their race.
It’s true that many white people enjoy certain benefits from belonging to the historic majority group. That’s part of human nature. It’s what majorities do for themselves. We need to keep it within strict moral limits of rights and justice.
We are not talking about Racism™ here. We’re talking about the real thing, which led to the deaths of millions. Read more in our recent book The Race to Save Our Century.
Why Racist Theories Caught On
Why was a false and arbitrary scientific theory able to survive and spread for decades? How did “civilized” nations justify liquidating conquered foreigners? Even their own citizens? Why did intellectuals accept hazy, poorly defined and empirically falsifiable claims of fundamental racial differences? Even between groups as closely related (for instance) as Slavs and Germans? The Nazis marched into Polish cities full of baroque architecture, with medieval universities that had housed such Poles as Copernicus. How could they convince themselves that they were subjugating “primitive subhumans”?
Timothy Snyder documents in Bloodlands how vast and delusional was the Nazi plan for expansion. Its “Generalplan Ost” planned to directly kill or starve tens of millions of Slavs. The Germans would also expel even more millions to uncertain fates beyond the Urals. Jews were the first and most helpless of Nazi victims. But Nazi targeted many other groups, too, in their quest for a vast, continental empire.
Germans had been educated on Kant and Schiller. How could they adopt the bizarre, self-cancelling Nazi theories about the Jews? How could they think at the same time:
- That Jews were biologically driven to tear down “Aryan” cultures.
- But they were at the same time culpably evil for doing so.
- That Jews were at fault for finance capitalism.
- And also at the root of international Communism.
The political brilliance of the Nazis belies any attempt to dismiss them as stupid or foolish. Political philosopher Peter Viereck spent some 600 pages in his masterwork Metapolitics to explore the deep, branching roots of Nazi ideology. He found them in misguided romanticism and perverted science. He doesn’t even try to explain the popularity of eugenics outside of Germany.
Modernity Turned Men into Isolated Atoms
So how do we account for the rise of modern racism? Best to turn to the social philosopher and economist Wilhelm Röpke. He was the first professor in Germany fired by the Nazis for his ideas. They drove him into exile, first in Turkey then in Switzerland. Röpke had battled the upsurge of racist and ultranationalist rhetoric since the Nazis’ early days. He used his small professor’s salary to write, print, and personally distribute anti-Nazi pamphlets as early as 1928.
How did “civilized” nations justify liquidating conquered foreigners? Even their own citizens?
Röpke explains in The Social Crisis of Our Time how all of Europe became vulnerable to radical ideologies. The rapid and unsettling social changes imposed by exploding industry and technology uprooted millions. Nations were full of men whose families might have worked in the same trade for centuries. In the same historic village with the same churches where their ancestors had been baptized, married, and buried. Now complex economic forces suddenly hit them. The falling prices of crops and rising industrial wages drove them off the farms, into vast, anonymous cities.
In places like Vienna, Paris or Berlin they found work. But they found themselves starkly cut off from the networks that had linked them to their neighbors. From sources of solidarity and cooperation, and traditional means of resolving their conflicts peaceably. Their schools were now secularized. Their links with the faiths of their fathers slowly eroded. Now they were solitary individuals. They faced the consequences of choices made by wealthy investors or faraway consumers. These workers couldn’t control their economic or even geographic destinies.
Atoms Formed Up into Radioactive Molecules
So such men looked for new ways to find friends and allies. For new sources of identity. New ways to advance or defend their interests. Cut off from their ancestral villages, extended families, churches and other social networks, these “proletarianized” workers had only two lively choices. They could join the rapidly growing web of socialist labor unions, clubs, and political parties. Or they could sign up with the radical nationalists.
Shorn of their past, men needed a new sense of self and belonging. So they could affiliate according to class, or according to race. They faced no other choices.
Such workers could put a face on the forces that held them back and frustrated them. As socialists, they could designate as enemies their landlords and employers. As nationalists they could blame menacing foreigners in neighboring countries and untrustworthy “aliens” who lived in their midst. National Socialism, as Röpke noted, displayed a particular evil genius. It combined the most potent negative elements of both movements, in the figure of “the Jew.” You could damn him as a grasping, alien, and capitalistic Jew. At the same time you could claim that he worked to bring about a Red dictatorship.
Man’s Crooked Timber
But we cannot blame Adolf Hitler for the vast majority of the race-based slaughters the 20th century witness. R.J. Rummel, the great statistician of “democide,” does the numbers in Death By Government. Leaving aside war casualties, governments murdered some 133.1 million human beings in the twentieth century. (The Nazis were responsible for a staggering 20.9 million murders in just 12 years in power.)
Because Hitler used ethnic identity as a pretext for murdering people, Western nations must abandon any ethnic or historical basis for their identities — even nations that were conquered and terrorized by Hitler, such as Poland and Ukraine.
Not all of these killings resulted from ethnic hatred. Who knows how many of the 61.9 million killed in the Soviet Union were singled out for extermination because they belonged to ethnic groups considered “suspect” by Stalin. Read Niall Ferguson’s The War of the World. The Soviet regime started the murderous mass removal of ethnic groups such as Poles and Ukrainians a full decade before the Holocaust.
But mass murders where ethnic differences were key included:
- The Japanese butchery of some 5.9 million Chinese.
- The Turkish killing of almost 1.9 million Armenians. And
- Pakistan’s murder of 1.5 million residents of what is now Bangladesh.
Lesser but still appalling totals were racked up in Rwanda, Sri Lanka, and the bloodthirsty, three-way war among Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians during the 1990s.
Look back at previous centuries. Count up the butcheries committed by the Mongols. By the Muslim conquerors of India. Think of countless other less documented ethnic cleansings.
Nothing New Under the Sun
We might begin to see that the explosion of racist violence in the twentieth century was not a hideous innovation. Its the resurgence of a profoundly human temptation. It’s one which we can only keep at bay with effort. Through the difficult, conscious cultivation of a sense of common humanity. That’s a clear and provable moral truth. But it’s easy to wish away, in the pressure of competition for rights and resources. It may be that what is unusual, even artificial, is not tribalism but its opposite: universalism, cosmopolitanism, the acceptance of a common humanity uniting Hottentots and Norsemen, Celts and Hmong, Pygmies and Inuits, and the fact of their moral equality. The effort of empathy is a costly one. The task of reviving and reasserting the universal rights of man is one that falls anew to each generation in turn.
That task may become impossible, if the leading sectors of society in the most powerful nations on earth are morally crippled by relativism, secularism, and hedonism.
Fighting Racism™ Is Not Enough
For now most white Westerners feel too guilty or socially constrained to express racial animus. But as Western societies become ever more diverse, that fact may change. New groups migrating to Western lands carry no such historical baggage. If we lack a vital moral discourse that reinforces common humanity and human rights, what will such newcomers do?
Racial groupthink and violence are historic human temptations. There’s no reason to expect these new residents to be magically immune. It’s clear that the lessons the West learned from the racist excesses of the twentieth century were woefully incomplete. They amounted to little more than:
- It’s wrong for white people to discriminate against others.
- It’s wrong for European nations to conquer and colonize non-European ones.
- Hitler used ethnic identity as a pretext for murdering people. So Western nations must abandon any ethnic or historical basis for their identities. That include nations Hitler conquered and terrorized, such as Poland and Ukraine.
- None of these lessons apply to non-Western nations or non-white people living in them.
Which of course, is nothing more than Racism™.